Sunday, May 31, 2009


John Adams loved to walk. According to David McCullough's biography, Mr. Adams sometimes took ten or fifteen mile walks around Washington, to "clear his head." Can you imagine? In those funny white hose? The shoes from the late 18th century could not have been ergonomically correct. But he did it anyway. Those founding fathers were tough.

Lincoln, too, liked walking. While he was president, he often walked from the White House to the Capitol, perhaps passing (and tipping his tall hat to) Walt Whitman, a guy who also loved to walk.

Whenever I take a big walk, I love thinking about how my feet are tracing the same paths as our early presidents, that I'm stepping into the footprints of great poets like Whitman.

I love the spaciousness of walking. Just like everything else in my life, I like the fact that walking takes time. It's a slow way (comparatively) to travel from point A to point B, emphasizing to me, over and over, that it's the journey, not the destination, that matters.

Yesterday I walked for hours through the gorgeous day, stopping here and there, of course, for a glass of iced tea, or a quick visit to the National Gallery. (I highly recommend the Luis Melendez show. Imagine a very realistic painting of artichokes set in front of a wild, stormy landscape, or a painting of a milk tin artfully arranged next to garlic cloves and beef. Yes, beef. Completely cool, if you ask me.)

I do my best thinking while walking. I breathe, gaze around, take pictures, of course. Walking is a big part of my spiritual practice. My only regret from yesterday is that I forgot to put on sunscreen. Oops. I'll remember next time.

Prince Charming's stylish foot.

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Every now and then my friend Prince Charming takes me to dinner. The experience is magical, just like a fairy tale. It really is. He's a food and drink writer so when he comes to DC, the chefs and restaurant owners do all they can to impress him. He - and I by default since I'm his guest - are treated like royalty. The chefs and restaurant owners come over and shake our hands. They want to know if we're enjoying the dinner. They are so sincere!

It's always a lot of fun - also slightly overwhelming - to taste so many delicious things, perfectly prepared and presented. But I'm not there for the food. Oh no. By far the best thing about these fairy tale dinners is the chance to connect with my old friend.

I met Prince Charming almost thirty years ago when we dated briefly. Since then we've been fast friends, even during periods of time when we haven't been in touch. I joke about the title "Prince Charming" because of the way the restaurant people suck up to him, but the truth is, he is genuinely charming. Also: smart, witty, handsome, stylish, thoughtful - and tender, too. And he smells good.

OK I'll admit I will always have a crush on Prince Charming. Who wouldn't??

Friday, May 29, 2009

Where there's fear, there's power

The Pourhouse Bar, on Pennsylvania SE at 3rd, has - for unknown reasons - two scary masks glued to the front of the building. Actually they're kind of adorable, at least this one, isn't it?

I agree with Dr. Antonio D'Amasio and other scientists who are interested in the neurology of emotion, that all emotions, even the so-called "negative" emotions, serve us well and should be treated with respect.

Fear, for instance, an emotion that is reviled in our culture (maybe because American society is based on the pursuit of happiness?) is a part of our survival instinct. As Dr. D'Amasio explains it, emotion is the result of changes in our body chemistry that prepare us to most effectively meet the external world. Fear enables us to run away from danger, or turn and face danger with a lot of extra energy (also known as courage). Without fear, we are unable to intuit danger and then decide how to deal with it. Fear is good!

He says that by the time we become conscious of emotions, they are already well underway. At the point that we know we're afraid (for instance), we can acknowledge it and then make decisions about what to do next, or we can repress the feeling, something we are encouraged to do in American society. He says we are only able to partially disguise the facial expressions that accompany emotion. We might be in denial, but the emotion is there.

Super heroes use fear in such an admirable way. It's like an emotional martial art for them, the way they acknowledge it and use the information in order to triumph. I love Indiana Jones in the first movie, using his fear of snakes to get himself and his girlfriend out of that Egyptian tomb.

The problem with fear (or any "negative" or "positive" emotion) is when we get addicted to it, or so accustomed to the feeling that we can't access other emotional states. The ideal behavior is to acknowledge fear, make decisions on what to do next, and then LET GO. That's the hard part, at least for me.

I could go on and on, for instance I could speak of anxiety (excitement without breath, as one of my great teachers used to say) or anger (a piercing energy that reveals the truth, but will "burn" you if you don't let it go, as Pema Chodron says). I could talk about people who say they're "always happy" and how bizarre that is to me.

I'll spare you the long lecture. Yadda yadda yadda. For heaven's sake, I am so officious sometimes.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Neurology of Shopping

Far more intimidating than talking to ghosts, according to the cosmology of Reya, is shopping for clothing. I have never been good at it, not ever. Not only am I completely overwhelmed by all the choices, but also by the dressing room experience, during which there is no way I can ignore my appearance. I have no choice but to stare at myself in ill fitting clothes, my skin green from the fluorescent light, completely exposed by the three way mirrors.

I'm built for styles from the 1950's. Everything designed since then looks terrible on me. Even at places like Lucy, where the salespeople say they make clothing that "looks good on everyone," the clothes do not fit. I refuse to blame my body type for the way I look in clothes. It's not my fault, really it isn't.

I'm thinking about clothes shopping this morning because, after a thorough examination of my sparse wardrobe, I realize I literally have nothing to wear tomorrow night when I have dinner with Prince Charming, an old friend who always dresses to the nines. He LOVES to shop and looks good in everything. How I wish his talent and enthusiasm would rub off on me. Or that someone would nominate me to be on What Not to Wear.

Over the years I've begged friends who are Master Shoppers to show me how it's done. Recently one of these friends said, "The truth is, Reya, you have to LIKE it." She's right of course. I do not like it at all. In fact, the experience is always slightly traumatic for me. Is that sad or funny?

I'm certain that there must be a strange neurological quirk that could be blamed for my problems with shopping, something beyond the overwhelm, the ill fitting clothes, even beyond the humiliation of the dressing room experience. Where is Oliver Sacks when you really need him?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

for Ronda and Dani, mostly ... and anyone else who is curious.

Pythagorean perfections: the east facade of the National Gallery, the cool dome over the center of the National Gallery, and the huge, elongated pyramid of the Washington Monument in the distance.

I was never that interested in American history until I landed in Washington DC. But once I was here, I became fascinated with it. The history of the Civil War is particularly alive in DC, surrounded as the city is by battlefields. If I'd moved to Massachusetts or even Philadelphia, I might have become entranced by the Revolutionary War. Who knows?

As is my habit once I become interested in something, I dove head-first into a study of the war, reading as much as I could and visiting the photo archives at the Library of Congress. Believe me, there are a LOT of books about the American Civil War. And Matthew Brady took a LOT of pictures. Wow. I even read Shelby Footes' three volume history, literally thousands of pages long. If I had to recommend just one great book for those not as inspired to read As Much As Humanly Possible, it would be Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson.

In the meantime I began visiting battlefields and that's where my shamanic work with dead soldiers began in earnest. I'm not the only person who believes that the battlefields are haunted. In fact, it's hard to find anyone, even the most rational person, who will say they aren't. It felt to me like the battles were ongoing in a never-ending loop. I tried so many different tactics to unwind those ghostly battle loops, including interpretive dance, chanting while wearing gigantic raven wings (seriously - I did that on the battlefield at Antietam), blasting music from a handheld boombox, forming shapes with postures and poses, crying like a baby and letting my tears fall on the ground and doing "automatic writing."

Back then, I was interested in finding areas of disturbed energy to work with shamanically. It was not good for me, and had absolutely no impact on the landscapes I visited. Also I was frustrated because most of my shaman pals had no desire to place themselves in the middle of Civil War battlefields. At the time I didn't understand, but now I do, I really do!

Flash forward to the 21st century. These days my shamanica is almost always about finding areas in which I feel a healing or harmonizing energy, then dancing in support of that healing. You see, I have gotten smarter, and more humble, as I've aged. Thank God.

My recent work with the Vietnam Memorial is all about the change in the energy there. I used to avoid that place like the plague, it felt so heavy and wounded. But something has happened and it doesn't feel creepy to me anymore. It feels potent in a healing way, as if the stuck souls are now able to move on, right through the wall to locations of healing and renewal. It feels happy down there these days. Wow.

You can't imagine how wonderful it is to know I had nothing to do with the change. Ahhhh. Free at last from my grandiose delusions. That's why I told those dead soldiers in my dream to get their astral asses down to the memorials, because I finally understand that it's not up to me to be the big healer of the damage of war. That's God's job, or something that can only unwind over time, or who knows? But I CAN dance in solidarity with the healing. I can go down to the Vietnam Memorial and smile in happiness and wonder that something has changed.

I do, and likely always will, have such a soft spot in my heart for those ghosts. I don't regret my follies on the battlefields, I don't regret my earnest desire to be of help. Embarrassing to think of my hubris, but oh well. That was then. It's all over now.

OK this is more than enough on this topic. Onwards & upwards to other subjects tomorrow. Enough is enough. Apologies if this was boring or completely impossible to understand. I'm like that sometimes.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Shipped Out

I am so happy Memorial Day weekend is over! Whew!! Holiday weekends are always marathons for me workwise (everyone else is on vacation, so it's easy for them to come in for a massage). I book myself solid at times like this, because one must make hay while the sun shines. But it's inevitable that I'll feel like a salmon swimming upstream. Everyone else is relaxing; I'm working hard. This particular Memorial Day was especially strenuous because of my shamanic/psychic/psychotic (which?) involvement with the dead soldiers.

Dream: I am playing poker and smoking cigarettes with blog friends, all men. We're yucking it up, doing shots of some kind of liquor. The whole scene is hazy with smoke. We're all greasy and sweaty. At one point, one of my very favorite friends pulls up his pant leg and shows me that he has a crutch instead of a leg from the knee down. He laughs, says, "I'm so good, no one even knows." He shoves the crutch back into his ass kicking boots and continues playing. Another friend is talking about how, when the pain got too bad, he did a morphine overdose. "It was all over, just like that!" He snaps his fingers and chuckles.

The next thing I knew, I was sitting up straight in my bed, wide awake. I've never smoked cigarettes in my life, that was the first thing that struck me. Two seconds later I said out loud, forcefully: "DUDES! Get out of here! Go down to the memorials! I mean it." Right at that moment, really - just after I said that - there was one loud boom of thunder (I was unaware of the lightning). I know that part was real because Jake jumped off his chair and went to hide in the bathroom. After that, I felt that whatever was unfolding had ended. I had no trouble falling asleep.

I'm always the first to admit that I might have a few screws loose. Shamans are not known, historically, for their balanced personalities. Or maybe those dead soldiers really did come to visit me in my dreams, dressed up to look like men I love dearly in "real" life, to make themselves especially appealing. Or, maybe not. But what about that clap of thunder? You can't plan for that kind of timing. Either way, as I like to say, my life is SO interesting.

Hail and farewell dear ones. Sweet dreams to all.

Monday, May 25, 2009

For my brothers

Dear Ones,

You were drafted or you enlisted. You had your reasons. Everything that happened after that, no matter what your experience was, required you to be braver than I've ever been, braver than I'll ever be. I honor your valour, every one of you.

Today I remember especially my brothers who served during the Vietnam War: finally I'm learning more about that war, trying hard to imagine what it was like for you. At the time, we watched on television and were horrified. I was not able to feel compassion for your situations. I apologize sincerely for that.

May all of you, from every time, from every place (not just the U.S.) and from every war, rest in peace.

What is remembered, lives.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Letting Go

My roommates put together a big sidewalk sale yesterday just from stuff that was up in the attic. It's not a big space but it must have been packed completely full because there was a LOT of stuff for sale. Wow.

As part of an ongoing cleanse of The Stuff I'm Supposed to Love, But Don't, I sold my chandelier - at last! It was a gift for my 40th birthday, given by someone who wanted me to be the recipient of something really special, but clearly did not understand my tastes. Super ornate, with tons of heavy crystal thingies and brass curlicues, all loopy and baroque in its design, I'll admit it was special, oh yeah. Unfortunately, I never liked it except as a curiosity.

It was very expensive, I'm sure. It's value, along with the memory of the gift giver's loving intent, created a sense of obligation within me. That obligation is the only reason I hung on to it year in and year out. Yesterday I was finally ready to admit that keeping it in a cardboard box in the attic for sixteen years is a clear indication that no matter how obligated I felt, I was not appreciating the little monstrosity, and it was time to let go.

The woman who lives next door, who keeps her Christmas tree up and fully lit 365 days a year, bought it. I can imagine that it will look just right in her house. I bet she'll be able to give it some love, something that it hasn't had in forever.

I lugged that thing around with me for a long time. It's so interesting to think about all the reasons why, how hollow they were. This morning I feel that a weight has lifted from my shoulders just because it's gone. Hail and farewell, overly fancy chandelier! Onwards & upwards.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Benefits of Middle Age

Aging is humbling. I say that all the time. It's alarming in the sense that time slips by so fast. Aging feels so personal. The process of other people aging seems right and proper, but the fact that I am aging is really weird. How could I age? How could it be? That's an ego problem, isn't it?

My mother used to say that aging is hardest for the beautiful, because when they lose their looks, there's nothing left. (Typing this just now is helping me see very clearly one of my mother's great prejudices. Prettiness = emptiness? Wow.)

Now I'm not saying I was beautiful. I don't think that was ever true, but I did have something, a magnetism, a hormonal thing combined with good enough looks and my characteristic enthusiasm for the human race, that created a very specific aura around me. I think I must have been really sexy because from the time I was a teenager until menopause, almost everyone I met believed I wanted to have sex with them. It was an ongoing assumption I encountered all the time.

I tried my best to accommodate the expectations of those around me, never pausing long enough to think about whether or not I actually DID want to sleep with them. Not saying I didn't have my infatuations and that I never found anyone sexy - far from it - but the truth is, I had sex with plenty of people I did not find attractive, just to get it over with, or to appease their expectations.

Since menopause, that magnetism has faded as have my youthful looks. Alarming and humbling as it is, it is also such a blessing. I like being received by others for who I am, rather than what I'm radiating hormonally. Men aren't afraid to sit and talk to me, women aren't suspicious. I, too, am far more relaxed because I'm no longer expected to be seductive. It's such a relief, you can not imagine.

Not everything about aging is a bad thing. Isn't that something?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Art Gets Under My Skin

In a sensate intuition class long ago, I learned that my sensate "style" is to open up and take the world inside, to drink it in and then process what I've sensed at a very deep level. (Some people do the opposite; they perceive the world in an external way as if (as my teacher said) their eyes/ears/hands could extend away from their bodies on long stalks to touch whatever they were focused on.*

Not me, though. I take it all in. Sometimes that's great, sometimes not so much. Last night I watched The Reader and was knocked flat by its power and beauty and sadness. Kate Winslet is a truly great actress. Wow.

I'll get over it, of course. But I need to keep firmly in mind that happy films, especially as I get older and more sensitive, are a much better idea. Sheesh.

*To find out what your perceptual "style" is, stand quietly with your eyes closed for a minute or two. When you're calm, open your eyes and pretend you can extend them outwards from your body. Walk around the room and gently "touch" what you see. When you've had enough of that, close your eyes and become calm again. Then open your eyes and let the objects in the room come into you, pour in through your eyes. Which approach feels most familiar? Or maybe you combine techniques? It's fun ... harmless, too.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Question Everything

No photoshopping - just a nicely textured surface on this car. Painterly, isn't it?

Optical illusions are a perfect example of the way we human beings live by assumption. We see what we expect to see, hear what we expect to hear, judge our experiences and make decisions based on a lengthy set of personal assumptions that are biological, cultural and genetic, though - perhaps unfortunately - mostly unconscious.

And so we make mistakes, lots and lots of mistakes, because assumptions often do not reflect "the truth."


In Vietnam, we stupidly believed our American assumption that we were all powerful. We believed we were invincible - as unsinkable as the Titanic. We assumed we could do what the French, Chinese, Japanese couldn't, i.e. subdue Vietnamese nationalism. If we had done our homework, we could have tossed out the racist assumption that the Vietnamese were just a bunch of weak peasants, an idea that couldn't be more inaccurate. But then, if we had questioned our assumptions, maybe we would have taken the time to study their history. Imagine my head shaking back and forth. Oy vey.

In my own life I make decisions based on unexamined assumptions all the time. Don't you? Sometimes it's OK, sometimes I cause unintentional harm to others.

Trying to stay aware of all our assumptions simply is not possible. But we can question our motivations, we can examine the grid of our personal values. We can try to face the urge to stereotype others and maybe catch ourselves before we make too many mistakes. We can try. I'm trying, anyway. Wish me luck!

I wonder which president had a "pet" horse at the White House. Teddy Rooseveldt?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What part of "I banish thee" DON'T they understand?

I'm tired this morning after a long night of scary dreams. You would think, after reading about Ho Chi Minh (a.k.a. Tran Luc, Tuyet Lan, Le Thanh Long, Dan Viet, Nguyen Lai, Nam Son, Thau Chin ... etc.) all day yesterday, that I would be haunted by his ghost.

Strangely, my nightmarish thrashings were centered around ex-romantic partners. It was one of those dream states that mimics reality, so it felt like I was awake, lying in bed. In the dream state, Jake wants to go into the kitchen. I follow him there only to find my ex-husband making himself a sandwich. When he sees that I'm there, he rushes out of the room, chewing. I go back to my room and slam the door shut. I'm in no mood to deal with my ex-husband. On the floor in a sleeping bag is another ex. She's cold and wants more blankets. But I don't have any extra blankets. What to do? No way she getting into my bed with me. No way.

It was an almost lucid dream. I think, in the dream, This is MY dream - I can make these people disappear. I squeeze my eyes shut and focus all my willpower on vanquishing the exes, but when I open my eyes, what I see first is another ex boyfriend looking mournful and depressed, sitting on my little green couch.

Needless to say when I actually awoke this morning, the blanket and sheets on my bed were completely untucked, as if I'd been wrestling all night long. My jaw is so tight; I'm sure I was clenching. Sheesh.

Though I don't know how to link Ho Chi Minh with all these exes, I'm thinking less reading today, more walking around, is probably a good thing. I'm off to see the Sufi acupuncturist, too. That always helps.

It's interesting - and a bit disturbing - to notice the potent impact that my study of Vietnam is having on my psyche. Yikes!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Back Slowly Away from the Book

As tempting as it is to sit inside and read about the history of Vietnam all day long, the day is calling me out. The birds are chirping loudly, as if to remind me that whenever I connect with the natural world, it's a Very Good Thing. Brother Sun is shining so bright that his gold rays have managed to penetrate the deep green canopy and are filtering in through the window over my bed, beckoning me. Father Sky is wearing his "Wild Blue Yonder" outfit. The trees are waving hello. Even Jake is giving me the eye, the look that says Let's get out there, woman. Now.

When I get interested in something, that something, no matter what it is, inevitably becomes a passion. Currently I am devouring Vietnam, A History, by Stanley Karnow. I mean really I am guzzling that book. You couldn't even call what I'm doing "reading."

I love feeling passionate, and I love learning things I don't already know, which would include pretty much everything about the history of Vietnam. Did you know they had their own Joan of Arc? They did! Very cool. The depictions of her look so Durga-ish. I guess the archetype of the fierce, young, beautiful, female warrior who fights and dies to save her country pervades many cultures.

Ah but here I am writing about Triệu Thị Trinh instead of putting on my sneakers and taking the dog out there into this glorious day. The birds are chirping louder now; in fact one of them just landed on the window sill.

In spite of my insatiable curiosity, it's impossible to resist a day like today. I'm off!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Bug season is right around the corner. Yes, it's true - here in the American midatlantic, we deal with bugs from the beginning of June until just before Thanksgiving, depending on the weather. Right before the launch of bug season, it's hard to remember that in a matter of a couple of weeks, there will be buzzing, biting, stinging little annoyances nipping at my ankles every time I walk through the park. (There will also be the ethereal beauty of fireflies, butterflies, and the noble work of the honeybees. It's not like I am bothered by all insects.)

Winter, too, has its petty annoyances. The dry air, made drier by the way we heat our houses, means that almost every time I touch something from Thankgiving to Memorial Day, I'm likely to receive a nasty shock. Not so nasty that the memory sticks with me for very long, just enough to make me jump.

Bugs and shocks are such small things. Even during the earnest thrashings of youth, it's more or less easy to ignore them. What I'm finding as I advance through middle age is that the older I get, the less interested I am in sweating even the big stuff. People make mistakes (not just "them" - I do, too.) It's important to make amends, but after that? Let it go.

Don't sweat the small stuff and really, if possible, don't sweat the big stuff either, eh? Even just five years ago I would never have believed that middle age would find me almost mellow. Wow. Life is short. Enjoy.

Park police on their magnificent horses, just east of the Vietnam Memorial. See the geese behind them?

Saturday, May 16, 2009


How many American soldiers
Died in this land?
How many Vietnamese
Lie buried under trees and grass?
Now the wineglass joins friends in peace.
The old men lift their glasses.
Tears run down their cheeks.

--Written by Van Le, former Vietcong guerrilla, for American journalist Morley Safer
January 1989, Ho Chi Minh City

I wasn't the only person who took roses to Maya Lin's wall today. I was not the only one touching the wall, eyes closed. I wasn't the only person in a contemplative state.

In fact I have never felt so at ease, or nearly as welcome, as I did today at the Vietnam Memorial. The holiday to remember the veterans is next week, so people are leaving flowers, notes, and tributes at the wall. The energy is heightened. As opposed to other memorials where this kind of emotional outpouring is discouraged, at the Vietnam Memorial, ritualized grieving is actually appropriate. The feeling there today reminded me of the AIDS quilt. It was so moving!

A man tapped me on the shoulder while I was putting Reiki into the black granite. It startled me, but his face was so kind. He asked if I wanted to have my picture taken. Afterwards I said thank you and he said, "You're welcome. Bless you." Bless me? That has never happened to me in the midst of what I like to call my shamanica. Usually when I'm focused on the energy I'm regarded suspiciously, but not today.

So Hammer, yes, I believe the wall actually does want me there, indeed it does! As I was leaving I saw a group of girls taking pictures of one of the rose tableaus I had carefully arranged. Wow.

Lots of people were making rubbings of the names of their beloved dead, assisted and encouraged by the guys who tend the wall. Anyone who wants me to make an impression of the name of dear ones, let me know. I'll be going back again soon, and would be honored to do this.

A year ago I would never have guessed that I would become so interested in this terrible piece of American history. My imagination is clearly not up to the task of envisioning my really interesting life, is it? Go figure.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Weekend Plans

The White House, May 14, 2009

Summer is in full swing at last. The air is thick with humidity, and all the trees are in full leaf unless they are dead. The only remnants of early spring flowers are the folded brown packets that were once daffodils and tulips. Even the irises (they usually hang around longer than other delicate spring flowers) are looking a little tired.

There are many flowers in bloom which is why it feels so nice and fresh and clean outside. Blooming flowers, as I experience them, are potent energy filters. Something about all their tender petals, gathered together in beautiful shapes, pulls in sour energy, cleans it, then radiates pure happiness and beauty. That's why we take flowers to people who are in the hospital, why we use them at funerals and weddings. They're pretty - oh my yes! - but they're also quite functional, at least I think so.

Because roses are the best energy filters in the flower kingdom (according to the cosmology of Reya) I'm thinking that my next steps at the Vietnam Memorial will include leaving roses at the wall, as many as I can pinch without being rude during tomorrow morning's walk with Jake.

My plan is to gather only the sweetest smelling roses, and since they're going to be placed at the Vietnam Memorial, I'm thinking I'll only collect those that have passed their peak. Seems fitting.

I'm also going to channel Reiki directly into the wall. Ordinarily I don't touch the black granite; in fact I don't believe I've ever touched it, but whatever it is that's happening there could be supported with life force energy, so I'm going to suck it up, be brave, scatter roses and put lots of Reiki into the memorial. No doubt there will be more shamanic twirling, and I've promised Tessa of the blog Aerial Armadillo that I'll leave the ipod at home, listen for birdsong and other sounds.

After the shamanics at the wall, I'm going to go see Star Trek. Not the worst way to spend a Saturday, is it?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Silence is Golden

Americans are outspoken. It's part of our culture to open our mouths and say whatever we feel like, always, in every situation. Yadda yadda yadda. In some parts of the country, this value is so deeply inculturated that we believe if we do not speak, it's not healthy, or we're being sneaky, hiding behind our silence.

I've lived in the American south now for more than ten years, a place where belief in the value of keeping quiet is still intact. Slowly, over time, I've come to see that I don't always have to say everything I'm thinking. In fact, sometimes it's actually better to just keep my mouth closed. I would never have believed this, once upon a time.

Old habits are hard to kick; sometimes I blurt things out and then feel so stupid, or rude, or obnoxious. Or superfluous (word I learned in Miss Searcy's class). A very wise friend of mine believes it's good to think about what you hope to accomplish every time you speak. What is your motivation?

Clearly it will take a LOT of practice on my part to fully develop a new habit of saying less, thinking more about what I do say. And it's kind of excruciating to realize how often I speak with no motivation at all except to hear how witty I am, to entertain the listener. For heaven's sake. It's a big change of habit for me, but I'm working on it. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Prisoners of War

I don't know anyone who would say that war is ever "good," though there are plenty who think certain wars are "just" or "necessary," or some other word like that. I'm not completely convinced that it's ever worth its horrors. Maybe, who knows? You tell me.

What I do know is that we humans are war-like. We're not the only aggressive species on earth, though our opposable thumbs make possible some truly hideous creations - sophisticated and deadly weapons, for instance. As bad as the shooting and killing (at least in my imagination) is the habit of imprisoning people we see as a threat, whether they are enemy soldiers, Jews, Japanese-Americans, or alleged members of Al-Quaeda. Criminal imprisonment is bad enough, but what we do to prisoners of war is beyond my comprehension.

The stories of the POW's taken during the Vietnam War are particularly awful. There's still a huge government searchable database for families and beloveds of the American soldiers who disappeared without a trace, at least 45 years ago, into the camps in N. Vietnam. After all this time, the MIA's are still lost; people are trying to track them down. The prisoners who came back from that experience were never the same - I'm thinking right now about ex presidential candidate John McCain. Because of the torture he endured, he can't raise his hands above waist-level. Unimaginable.

I'm puzzled by the quotation marks on this sign. Are they trying to convey that staying on the sidewalk isn't "really" honoring those who served but is just a rule they want to guilt you into obeying? Someone please explain?

I came of age during the time of the huge American protests against the Vietnam war, so I remember a lot about it. I remember a friend's older brother who served twice. The first time he went because he was drafted. The second time he went voluntarily because the drugs were so good over there. Within a year after he came back from his second tour of duty, he committed suicide. His story, sadly, is typical. People of my age can tell you countless stories about the sickness of that war. It left us so heartsick, it really did.

In general I have avoided the Vietnam Memorial here in DC, probably because of my memories from the 60's. It's a beautiful sculpture: elegant, powerful, wrenching. That memorial does everything a war memorial "should" do. But every time I visited it (in the past), I always felt like I was being boiled, even in the dead of winter. It felt toxic, harmful, viciously haunted, so I stayed away for the most part.

Yesterday I spent about an hour there, walking back and forth, listening to music on my ipod (mostly so as to avoid overhearing tourist talk - no offense to tourists but those conversations never enhance my experience), dancing around as I do when I'm trying to understand the energy of a place. I've never lingered so long at Maya Lin's wall.

I don't quite have the right language to describe what was happening there yesterday but I can say for certain that it was different than anything I've felt in the past. The walls of the memorial, so shiny and unusually reflective, seemed somehow porous, more like mesh screens than solid rock. Watching people touch the black granite, I half expected to see their hands go right through to another dimension.

Maybe it was the joyousness of the inaugural concert (it took place at that end of the National Mall) that shifted the energy. I felt even that day that the music was bringing a powerful healing to all those awful memorials down there (the Korean War, Vietnam War and the Lincoln).

Yesterday it felt like an exchange was taking place, a soul swap of some kind. The thought in my mind while I danced (mindful that the Park Police were keeping a close eye on my shamanic twirling) was that souls of soldiers from both sides of the conflict have been stuck, like POW's, in a hideous post-life limbo, a prison camp for the dead. Yesterday I sensed that those stuck souls were finally crossing back and forth through the mesh screens of black granite and etched names, guided by Vietnamese ancestors. It felt distinctly like those souls were finally going home.

Could it be true that the stuckness of the Vietnam War is coming unstuck at last? I'm just guessing of course. I wonder, am I the only person feeling this? If so no doubt what I'm experiencing is something in me that's coming unstuck. Felt bigger than that, though. Who knows? Below is a "walking tour" of the memorial. Take a stroll through, will you, and tell me what you feel? Thanks.

"I saw the Vietnam Veterans Memorial not as an object placed into the earth but as a cut in the earth that has then been polished, like a geode." --Maya Lin

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Now Who Am I?

For a long time I refused to admit that I had terrible allergies, even though every spring during tree and grass pollinating season, I was a miserable mess of sneezes, congestion and a terrible itchiness all over. When I finally came to understand my environmental sensitivities, I became obstreperous,* tried to carry on with all my outdoor explorations in spite of the fact that at times I was practically in a state of anaphylaxis.

Finally, don't even remember why, I broke denial (or more likely, the allergies broke it) and I took it on, not just as a condition but as a part of my core identity. I am a person with terrible springtime allergies. I created a philosophy around it, i.e. My only health challenge is allergies. I began staying inside with the windows closed while the green dust flew around outdoors, and though I did feel sorry for myself for missing out on the prettiest moments in spring, I was finally resolved to my fate. I might as well have said I AM my springtime allergies. For heaven's sake.

This year (just like last year) I'm having a surprising, happy identity crisis because all around me people are sneezing while I am not. Yes I'm seeing the Sufi acupuncturist regularly and I'm sipping my Chinese medicinal tea and too when it's really bad out there I am retreating to hermetically sealed spaces for an hour or two until the worst of it blows over. Even so, I'm not reacting to the pollen like I once did. I'll sneeze here and there, blow my nose, but then that's it. The histaminic reaction to pollen that once upon a time brought me to my knees at this time of year can no longer get itself fully organized.

My new identity: I am a person with MILD seasonal allergies, as long as I address them with Chinese medicine. It's a whole new me.

*Obstreperous is one of the many words I learned in Miss Benny Searcy's high school English class. She was red-faced, cross, funny, and always smelled like metabolizing alcohol, but she was a great teacher. She died recently, so she's been on my mind more than usual, though I always think of her when I use the words I learned in her class - ascerbic, recalcitrant, obstreperous. Hail and farewell Miss Searcy. May you rest in peace.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Shamanic Assignment

DISCLAIMER: I try mostly these days to keep my shamanic activities off the blog, because really my spiritual path, in this time and place, is so weird. I apologize, in advance, for giving any of you the willies. Sometimes I try to think of what I do as performance art, though the Sufi acupuncturist has told me it's disrespectful to diminish my spiritual path, no matter how far out of the mainstream it may be. The bottom line is, my shamanism doesn't hurt anyone or anything. I don't think others should (or even could) follow the same path since it's so idiosyncratic. Best of all, I maintain a sense of humor about it most of the time. I know, I perhaps do not always have both oars in the water. Oh well. --end disclaimer--

Here's how it happened. First, I became entranced with the sound of Huong Thanh's voice. I can't stop listening to her music. I used words like "haunting" and "eerie" to describe it. I even said "It's like the ancestors are talking to me." (See sidebar for my exact words.)

A couple of days after, when I sat down to post to the blog - that was yesterday - out came a few paragraphs about ghosts. Even as I was writing, I was thinking, "This is weird. Why am I writing about ghosts in May?" A couple of hours after I posted, I remembered Memorial Day is just around the corner, a holiday that celebrates dead soldiers. The dots were beginning to connect, but I still didn't get it.

At the very moment I began to wonder why they chose the end of May to celebrate the Dead (shouldn't Memorial Day coincide with late fall?), about a hundred motorcycles sped past my window. There were so many of them it was impossible to ignore. I thought, Hey, it's too early for Rolling Thunder. (Rolling Thunder is an event put together by Vietnam Vets in celebration of Memorial Day. They parade all over DC on their Harleys and then gather at Maya Lin's incredible, powerful, heart wrenching Vietnam Memorial.

Indeed it is too early for Rolling Thunder, and as I love to say, you can't plan for the timing of all those motorcycles rumbling past just as I was thinking about dead soldiers and Memorial Day.

Finally it all came together in a narrative that my consciousness could understand. The Vietnamese ancestors ARE speaking, whispering, gathering. I can "hear" the whispers because it's what I do, and because I've practiced listening to the subtle energies for so many years. I believe the ghosts of the Dead from the Vietnam War are stirring a lot more than usual. I could feel it but my mind was unable to articulate what I was experiencing until yesterday when, looking at my blog, I noticed the juxtaposition of the sidebar with the post, and remembered the motorcycles. Finally the pieces fell into place.

And so you see this is how I "decide" to go on shamanic assignment. Clearly it is not a rational process, but then mysticism by its very nature is never rational is it?

I'm looking forward to visiting the Vietnam Memorial tomorrow or Wednesday. I'll take my rattle, listen to my theme song on my ipod or in my head where it is running like a tape loop. I will open my mind and heart to the energies there, probably dance around a little bit. Who knows?

Now, finally I am conscious that Something Is Happening, that I'm being called to dance in shamanic alignment with whatever that Something is. I am a shaman, for whatever that means, but my goodness sometimes I am so dense when I'm being called.

My mind is always the last to know.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

No Such Thing?

There are lots of ghosts in and around Washington DC. In fact it is the most haunted city I've lived in. The ghost demographic here includes a lot of dead soldiers, which makes sense geographically because of all the Civil War battlefields that form a ring around the city. Also, at least according to the cosmology of Reya, ghosts are attracted to monuments built to honor them. I think they tend to cluster around the war memorials, perhaps looking for healing and release, or maybe they feel they belong there. There don't seem to be ghost "communities." As I experience it, every ghost feels that he or she is the ONLY pale wanderer among us. I believe being a ghost must be kind of a lonely existence (maybe "non-existence" is a better word).

Not only is DC haunted by human ghosts, but animal ghosts as well. There are lots of dead horses that I figure must have also died in battle, because otherwise how could a horse spirit get caught on this plane?

I speak matter-of-factly about ghosts because to me they are "real." And although mostly, in American culture at this moment in history, I'm thought of as someone who perhaps doesn't have all her dirt in one spot for believing in them, I try to remind myself that I'm not the only person who has ever "seen" ghosts. In fact in most parts of the world throughout history humans have acknowledged and co-existed with ghosts, written countless stories and poems, made paintings and movies about them. Even in our culture of "reason" many people have a ghost story or two to share around a campfire or at Halloween.

What's funny (funny-weird) to me are the people who summarily dismiss my relationships with the Dead, write off millenia of human experience in favor of disbelief. And they're so smug about it. What's that all about?

Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock

The houses are haunted
By white night-gowns.
None are green,
Or purple with green rings,
Or green with yellow rings,
Or yellow with blue rings.
None of them are strange,
With socks of lace
And beaded ceintures.
People are not going
To dream of baboons and periwinkles.
Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
Catches tigers
In red weather.

-- Wallace Stevens.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


On this morning's walk I heard baby mockingbirds for the first time this year. It's a pathetic sound they make when they first hatch; sounds like a cheap plastic whistle. Hard to believe that in a few weeks they'll be able to sing like virtuosos.

In fact there are a lot of just hatched birds in the neighborhood. I know this because their parents are in the midst of their annual cycle of territorial fierceness. Not only do they swoop and peck at Jake (who has no interest in finding or eating their chicks) but they swoop and peck at me, too.

Probably I shouldn't be insulted, but I am. I reassure them repeatedly that I'm just passin' through, but do they listen? Cranky little modern day dinosaurs! Are they channeling Alfred Hitchcock, or what?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Lush Life

Green is the color most often associated with the heart chakra. It is associated with healing, and also, as they explained at the Berkeley Psychic Institute, green shows us how to take "the next step." Green is the color ecological activists use to describe a lifestyle that's in harmony with the natural world. Green means brand new (as in green behind the ears). Green means GO.

Here in the swamp where I live, the micro-season of pastels is over and the season of green is in full swing. I'm not saying that's the only visible color, oh no. Gardens will sport every imaginable flower between now and autumn, coming in waves with the micro-seasons of summer. But green will prevail. From underfoot to the canopy overhead, DC is as green as green can be, and will remain so until August when summer begins to fade.

I believe that my brain benefits from its visual summertime bath of green, and so of course also my mind, heart and body. The rain has stopped and the sun has come out, revealing a world of deep, delicious green. Welcome summer!

I stopped every ten steps and took a pic as I walked half the length of Lincoln Park.
This is my crude attempt to take you on a green "walking tour."

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Everyday Luxuries

Luxury, according to the cosmology of Reya, includes making time whenever possible for long, meandering walks. Taking along the camera, and remembering to wear Really Good Shoes, adds to the feeling of luxuriousness.

Yesterday I made (or better said, I "took") the time to walk to my appointment with the Sufi acupuncturist. It was lovely, luxurious, and just plain fun.

Though not completely clear, the overcast had thinned enough to allow shafts of sunlight to make their way down to ground level from time to time. It was cool, but not too cool. After all the rain of recent days I felt like I'd just been let out of jail. Fabulously luxurious feeling, believe me!

I saw some amazing sights, like

Wow. A sandy colored tank inside a fence with the capitol in the background. Scary.

More interesting was the reflection of the Washington monument in puddles leftover from all the rain and the beautiful facade of the Smithsonian castle. As usual I enjoyed listening to the snips of conversation I could catch while passing other people. The things people decide to say out loud are deeply amusing, especially out of context.

Long walks are luxurious, but they are also therapeutic in so many ways. I feel like my busy mind has a chance to stretch out and relax while I walk. It's good for my body, too. After sitting around for so many days in a row, I needed a big ole constitutional foray into this beautiful city. It was pure luxury, oh yeah!